The Time Is Now For Klitschko

By Francis Walker
Updated: February 22, 2008

NEW YORK — Wladimir Klitschko is the IBF heavyweight champion. Sultan Ibragimov is the unbeaten WBO champion. Both Klitschko (49-3, 44 KOs) and Ibragimov (22-0-1, 17 KOs) will fight to unify two pieces of the world heavyweight championship on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“Klitschko-Ibragimov: The Unification,” which will be televised live on HBO beginning at 9 PM/ET, is the first world heavyweight title unification bout in nine years.

The last heavyweight unification bout occurred in November 1999 when Lennox Lewis defeated Evander Holyfield to unify the WBC, WBA, and IBF championships in a rematch from their controversial draw in March 1999 at the Garden.

With Lewis having been long retired and Holyfield out of the heavyweight title picture, both Klitschko and Ibragimov plan to make history on perhaps the grandest stage in all of sports.

“This fight belongs to New York and Madison Square Garden,” Klitschko stated at this week’s final press conference. “The last unification fight was nine years ago. New York is the media city of the world. I think because of this fight and the unification, and broadcasting live all over the world, I’d like to repeat the words of Frank Sinatra, ‘if you can make here, you can make it anywhere.’”

Klitschko appears to be more than ready for the difficult task of taking the WBO crown from Ibragimov.

Should Klitschko emerge successfully, he wants to pursuer further unification fights and “keep the championship as long as possible because the champ is the moneymaking machine,” Klitschko stated. “While one of the promoters are going to lose a champion, the other one is going to gain. That is why it’s such a financial advantage fight. We’ve talked a lot about unification and now’s the time.”

Unifying the IBF/WBO heavyweight titles isn’t going to make Klitschko an icon, although is very popular in Europe and has a solid fan base in America. Klitschko will have to continue winning and unifying the championships. Hopefully, once the championships are unified comes the emergence of a meaningful/threatening contender that people will be willing to shell out big bucks to see Klitschko fight.

“You have to make next step to be known and then you can go pay-per-view” Klitschko said. “You can try to make pay per view fights from the financial side, but you will have no luck. You don’t have big names in the heavyweight division. You have no chance to find someone in the heavyweight division right now like Oscar De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins.”

Klitscho added: “Right now, there’s no chance for any pay-per-view fights.”

Klitschko’s trainer, Hall of Famer Emmanuel Steward agrees.

“Wladimir wants to fight the best heavyweights out there and it’s not too many big superstar heavyweights out there now. No big fights like Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson, and Holyfield. So all he can do is fight who everyone considers the best heavyweights and it’s the other heavyweight champions.”

Klitschko’s task of beating Ibragimov, an undefeated southpaw from Russia, will be no easy feat. Ibragimov is a solid boxer that likes to move around the ring and surprise you with is left hand. Ibragimov was a solid amateur boxer who won a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

“Each of the fighters are so different,” said Klitschko when asked to compare Ibragimov to other heavyweights. “I can’t compare Ibragimov to any of them, maybe only as a southpaw to Chris Byrd. They’re kind of the same size and they’re both very smart fighters. But they’re totally different.”

Ibragimov, who fought a 12-round draw with Ray Austin – a fighter Klitschko bombed with one arm through two rounds – is coming off two consecutive decisions against Shannon Briggs and Evander Holyfield. Ibragimov maybe smaller than Klitschko at 6′ 2,” 219 pounds, but he is a crafty fighter than can box and move well under the guidance of Jeff Mayweather.

“I do not look at Ibragimov’s bad fights” Klitschko said. “I look at Ibragimov’s best fights. He made a very good chess game with Holyfield and with Briggs. He’s been very successful with all of his fights. He made it. He’s undefeated and he’s a champion. He doesn’t look very impressive, but he’s very fanciful.”

Ibragimov, who will stop at nothing to find a way to out-box is opponents, is very determined and is prepared to make the necessary adjustments to tackle the bigger, stronger man.

“We’ll try everything,” Ibragimov said. “We’ll try a lot of plans for this fight. I know how to fight he’s big strong fighter. I know how to fight big guys. Shannon Briggs was a big strong guy.”

Regardless to what Ibragimov does inside the ring and whatever adjustments he makes, according to Steward, the WBO champion will come up short.

“Wladimir Klitschko is prepared for whatever style that Sultan Ibragimov brings,” Steward added. “Wladimir is just too good in terms of skills, punching power, hand speed, foot speed and experience in super fights. He’s had over 50 fights, which is very unusual for a guy that’s as young as he is in addition to being a superstar all of his life as an amateur.”

HBO Honors Joe Louis

Prior to Klitschko-Ibragimov and the replay of another Kelly Pavlik victory over Jermain Taylor, HBO will honor the life and the legacy of perhaps the great heavyweight champion of all-time.

“Joe Louis: America’s Hero… Betrayed,” will be televised on HBO beginning at 8 PM/ET. The documentary is an exclusive never-before produced tribute to the memory American hero.

Joe Louis holds the record for longest uninterrupted title reign in history (11 years, 10 months), most consecutive world heavyweight title defenses (25), most victories in title fights (27), and most knockouts in title fights (23).

The documentary will take a riveting look into the events around Louis’ two epic battles with Max Schmeling, his support of the U.S war effort during World War II, and how he was betrayed by his own country.

Steward in awe of Louis’ legacy

Muhammad Ali would have probably beaten every top heavyweight in boxing history, but Louis was something special in the yes of many including Emmanuel Steward.

“Joe Louis, when he was world champion, I though he epitomized the words boxing heavyweight champion,” Steward said. “He did everything in the sport. Also what he did for race relationships by pulling the country together, nobody ever did anything like that. The night that he knocked out Max Schmeling it was not just a boxing event or a sporting event. It was one of the most significant nights or events in the history of the world.

“It made him an all-time hero as a result of that,” Steward concluded. “We look at the heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali, I think for skills, probably would have beaten all of the other heavyweight champions. But as significant as the word champion, I still say Joe Louis epitomized that.”

Ibragimov moved by Louis as well

Ibragimov is one of the smallest heavyweights in boxing today. But guess what? So was Joe Louis. At 6′ 2,” 219 pounds, Ibragimov was only one-inch taller and more than 20 pounds bigger than Louis in his prime.

“He’s a great fighter, a small great fighter,” Ibragimov said. “I want to show again that small heavyweight fighters come [to win against] everybody. All heavyweight fighters, all big, big champions. I’m a small champion. Joe Louis was small champion and he beat everybody. I’m not Joe Louis, but I can show people how small heavyweights can beat big heavyweights.”

“I saw a lot of [his] fights,” Ibraginov added. “He was an agile fighter.”